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Trial begins for woman accused of killing son-in-law

February 19, 1997

VIERA, Fla. (AP) _ A woman accused of killing her son-in-law had asked him and her daughter to move out, and had been arguing about claiming the couple’s eight children as dependents, the daughter testified.

Mary Ann Feister, 52, is charged with second-degree murder in the Sept. 7 death of James Berkey, 27. Investigators said Mrs. Feister shot him once in the chest following an argument; her attorneys maintain it was an accident.

Testifying against her mother on Tuesday, Jennifer Berkey said she was in a bedroom on the day of the killing when she heard a gunshot. She found her husband, a construction worker, on the floor of the den.

``He was laying on his belly. Blood was coming out everywhere,″ she said.

Mrs. Berkey said she screamed: ``You shot him. You shot him.″ She said her mother told her to ``Shut up.″

Mrs. Berkey, 29, said she and her eight children had been living with her mother and her mother’s husband, Robert, in Titusville, on the coast northwest of Cape Canaveral, for almost two years after being evicted from their home in Virginia.

She said her husband followed his family to Florida but initially was not allowed to sleep in the Feister home; he slept in his car. Eventually, she said, her mother relented and let Berkey sleep in the den with his children.

``They stayed away from each other,″ she said of her mother and husband.

Mrs. Berkey said that on the day of the shooting her mother asked her and her husband to move out. They then argued about the Berkeys’ agreement to list their children as the Feisters’ dependents for income tax credits.

Defense attorney Gregory Eisenmenger has said Mrs. Feister grabbed her gun because she was scared of Berkey, who he said had a history of violence and threatened to blow up the house.

He said Mrs. Feister and her husband even had locks on their bedroom door because they feared Berkey.

``My clients were prisoners in their own home,″ Eisenmenger said during a recess.

Prosecutors said Mrs. Feister wasn’t afraid of her son-in-law and had threatened to go after him with a bat.

``She was not terrorized by him,″ prosecutor Susan Garrett said out of the jury’s presence.

Mrs. Feister faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.